Posted on September 22, 2023
Categories: college & career, English Learners (ELs), equity, external reports, system trends

The Philadelphia Education Research Consortium (PERC) is currently a partnership between Research for Action and the School District of Philadelphia’s Office of Research and Evaluation. Launched in August 2014, PERC conducts research that is community-informed, equity-focused, and based on a critical analysis of District needs. PERC’s focus for 2021-2024 is on providing evidence to support the District’s goal for all students to graduate prepared for college or careers.

The report below is a PERC publication, originally posted here, and it focuses on English Learners in 7th and 8th grade as they prepare to transition to high school.

The School District of Philadelphia serves a diverse population of English Learners with different ethnic backgrounds, cultural identities, and languages spoken. SDP’s population of ELs has grown significantly, from about 12,000 in 2014-15 to nearly 20,000 in 2022-23, an increase of 66%. During this time period, between 106-118 home languages were spoken in each school year.

This community-informed study focuses on English Learners in 7th and 8th grade, grade levels that are often overlooked in research but represent a critical juncture as students prepare to transition to high school. A successful transition to high school can bolster a student’s likelihood of graduating and demonstrating readiness for college and careers.

This study shines a spotlight on 7th and 8th-grade ELs who are about to make this important transition to high school. By describing the diversity of 7th and 8th-grade English Learners’ backgrounds and experiences, this study challenges the notion that the English Learner population is a monolith. As a foundation for further research on how to meaningfully study the experiences and environments of English Learners, this study describes the diversity of home languages spoken, countries and regions of birth, and duration of EL status across the population of English Learners in the years leading up to their transition to high school. Key findings include:

  • School District of Philadelphia English Learners in 7th and 8th grade are a linguistically diverse group, reflecting broader trends in the District. In the four years from 2017-18 to 2020-21, this group was comprised of students who spoke at least 85 different home languages.
  • Though Spanish is consistently predominant, significant shifts in the prevalence of less common home languages – like Portuguese – are worth noting. Over the four years we examined in this study, the share of Portuguese-speaking 7th and 8th grade ELs more than doubled from 4.4% to 9.1% and now represents the second most common home language, following Spanish and surpassing Arabic and Chinese (Mandarin). This growth in Portuguese-speaking English Learner students likely reflects a coinciding rapid increase in families immigrating from Brazil during this same time period.
  • Though nearly half of 7th and 8th-grade ELs in our study were born in the United States, a growing share of 7th and 8th-grade ELs were born in Central America. Much of this increase can be attributed to a notable increase in ELs born in Guatemala and Honduras.
  • The share of 7th and 8th grade ELs enrolled within a school can rapidly change over a short period.
  • While 7th and 8th-grade EL enrollment modestly increased in SDP schools over the course of the four years in our study, the share of ELs identified as long-term English Learners (LTELs) remained consistent at about 40%.

Additional Resources

  • Visit PERC’s website to find a summary of policy and practice implications and to learn more about the services SDP provides to EL students.
  • Watch our Research Roundup webinar from September 2023 for an in-depth discussion of the report’s findings, or download the accompanying presentation.